Finding Community Solutions to Community Education Issues

Kayla Desroches/KMXT

Solutions for community problems can be found within those same communities – that’s what leaders are saying after a recent meeting of educators in Washington D.C.

The National Education Association just wrapped up its annual meeting and representative assembly in the capitol Thursday.

Ron Fuhrer, outgoing president of NEA-Alaska, says along with discussing federal education funding and programs, they addressed the Every Student Succeeds Act, which passed in December and replaced No Child Left Behind.

“The Every Student Succeeds Act actually brings back to the state level the decision making so that it incorporates local educators, parents, and communities, and so we’re looking forward to working on that with the new commissioner of [the] Department of Education and Early Development.”

Michael Johnson stepped into the position of commissioner on the first of this month. He’ll be working closely with educators in Alaska, including new NEA-Alaska President, Tim Parker. Parker has been a teacher in Fairbanks for 18 years and formerly served as NEA-Alaska director.

He says the Every Student Succeeds Act allows each community to make decisions for its own school system.

“When those measures aren’t there, when you don’t have AP classes for your kids, or you have a serious with substance abuse in your community or the graduation rate isn’t where you want it, what are you going to do to fix that? What is that community going to do? I mean, that’s where the solutions are. The solutions aren’t in Washington D.C. They’re not even really in Juneau. They’re in the actual community itself and then getting the actual support to the community if that’s needed to make that happen.”

Parker says schools can look to their own communities for ways to solve other common problems as well, like the turnover of teachers in rural areas. He says groups like NEA need to find ways to reach out to locals who could serve their communities.

“And we have to do a better job of recruiting those teachers and helping them to get to the point where they are ready to lead a classroom and lead students in a way that’s appropriate, so that means getting a bachelor’s degree and getting through a teaching program so that they can actually get to the classroom and teach in a community where they have grown up.”

He says that’s one subject he wants to tackle during his term, along with figuring out how the Every Student Succeeds Act will look for rural schools.

Parker says, while in D.C., he heard a discussion between Senator Lisa Murkowski and secretary of education, John King, about how to implement the act.

“One of the questions that the senator raised to Secretary King had to do with whether or not a small rural school could qualify for a diversity grant when often in small rural schools, everyone’s potentially a Native student, so they may not qualify under some of the federal guidelines. And she was asking for an exception for that.”

It’s a work in progress, like many of the issues that are currently before Parker in his new position. He began his term as NEA-Alaska president Thursday.

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